Authors: Dean Murray
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Young Adult
Copyright 2011 by Dean Murray
The silvery light of a
nearly-full moon should have been comforting. For most people it
would've been peaceful even, but it pulled at my anger with
surprising strength as I bounded across the arid Southern-Utah
four-legged shapes ghosted through the darkness on either side of me
as we slid between the softly-glowing pillars of trees. Jasmin,
arguably the closest thing I had to a best friend, dove through a
latticework of light and then it was my turn to feel the undergrowth
grasping at my fur in an effort to slow my progress.
The warm evening
breeze carried a host of aromas too subtle for mere human noses to
identify. In our four-footed forms each molecule was unconsciously
sorted and cataloged, leaving us free to concentrate on the elusive
scent of our prey.
The other pack, a
portion at least, was less than a mile away, far enough into our
territory for it to be a killable offense if they were caught.
They'd become increasingly arrogant over the last few months, but
coming in close enough to threaten our families was a whole new level
of provocation. Even their leader, Brandon, wasn't usually so bold.
A stray eddy of wind
played across my muzzle, and I knew they'd made their first mistake.
I pressed into my second in command for a moment, conveying an order
through posture and motion, and then nipped at Jasmin's heels, the
two of us stretching out in a full sprint.
Free from the others,
Jasmin and I streaked through the night with a speed the rest of our
pack couldn't have matched. Jasmin pressed at my flank, curious at
my decision until she caught the scent, and then an answering growl
made its way past her fangs.
The trap was clever,
but the other wolves didn't know the terrain well enough. I let my
beast bubble up from the corner of my being where I usually kept it
chained. Between one moment and the next, I went from running on
four legs to two. As my transformation ended, a six-foot tower of
muscle and claws sprang from the shadows. I ducked Vincent's first
blow and retaliated with a gash that opened one side of his chest
nearly down to the bone.
A dark-furred form
leaped at Jasmin, but the other wolf mistimed the spring. Most of
the other pack didn't appreciate just how nimble she was. Jasmin
dodged to one side and then the two of them were circling, looking
for an opening.
Vincent, the other
hybrid, attacked with the strength and fury that'd earned him the
position of second in his pack, but he hadn't been expecting to face
me in this form. As a wolf I weighed in at a solid two hundred
pounds, but would've still given up more than a hundred pounds to
Now I had at least six
inches and seventy-five pounds on my side of the equation, and he was
the one pressed onto the defensive as the fight progressed.
I caught flashes of
action from the other fight as we circled each other. Jasmin sprang
at her opponent, catching her behind the shoulders as Vincent reeled
away from me in a shower of blood. I'd finally managed a deeper
strike on his arm.
scream of pain as Jasmin began trying to crush her opponent's spine
was answered by rapidly-approaching howls. Vincent attacked with
renewed strength at the promise of reinforcements.
I was bleeding in a
dozen places now, but the rage insulated me from pain and weakness.
Both sides of my nature were united in hating Vincent. If I ever did
manage to kill him, my questionable humanity wouldn't grieve. The
world would be better for his absence.
I could hear the other
pack now, panting with exertion, our friends hot on their heels.
Vincent overreached in his effort to claim the kill, and I sunk my
teeth into the muscled flesh of his shoulder as I finally made it
around behind him.
My claws sank into his
arms and legs as I repositioned to snap his neck, and then a hammer
blow of weight struck me across the shoulders. Knocked loose from
Vincent, I spun around in time to tear Simon from the air as he
leaped at me again. It was the perfect opportunity to end a life
nearly as evil as Vincent's, but one of the recent arrivals had
bowled Jasmin over.
Leveraging a frame
that was more than capable of picking up a small car, I threw Simon
into the whirling ball of flesh and fangs. He didn't hit hard enough
to snap his neck, but he knocked the other wolf off of Jasmin, and
then Vincent was back on his feet.
The rest of the rival
pack, save for Brandon their leader, came streaming past, but they
didn't help their fellows swarm Jasmin and I over. None of them even
slowed. Vincent took an angry swipe at the last, a small female, and
then our pack burst from the trees. A second later, our enemies were
in full rout.
I let my bulk melt
down back into my sleeker wolf shape as I joined Jasmin and the rest.
We quickly chased the other pack out of our territory and halfway
through the neutral buffer, but failed to catch even the wounded
wolves. Jasmin normally could've run any of Brandon's pack down, but
she was limping.
ever-sensible second in command, brushed up against me, putting
slight pressure on my right side even as he dropped his nose in
submission. It was a small thing, but it pulled me out of the blood
lust, and I turned our course back towards home.
I should have seen the
problem developing. James never has been very level-headed. That's
a bad thing considering that, as the third hybrid in the pack, he's
dominant to all of the other wolves with the possible exception of
Jasmin. As the rest of the pack altered course to follow me James
failed to change direction. He knocked one of the others over when
she wasn't quick enough getting out of his way, and in the next
instant nipped at Isaac. Less than a second later both James and
Isaac's wolf forms exploded into hulking hybrids.
Isaac has always been
the most even-keeled of us. His ability to carefully pick his
battles is what's always allowed him to edge James out when it comes
to ranking inside the pack. Even so, he couldn't allow James to
attack his girlfriend, Jessica, without responding. When it comes to
no holds barred fighting, Isaac's margin of superiority is much
The two males clinched
and went at each other with claw and fang while I was still spinning
around. My own hybrid form tore itself free, and I crossed the
intervening twenty feet in two long bounds as both James' and Isaac's
girlfriends circled each other warily.
James was on top,
tearing at Isaac's writhing form with all of his considerable
strength. My backfist knocked James into a tree. He rolled to his
feet like he was ready to take both Isaac and me on at the same time.
girlfriend, abandoned her posturing and wrapped her long feline body
around James, calming him with a speed nothing else seemed able to
accomplish. Even so, it was still more than a minute before Isaac
and James had cooled enough to get them both moving again.
The girls ran in the
middle of the pack, keeping the boys separated from each other as
much as possible. I probably should have chosen that moment to
reestablish dominance over both James and Isaac, but my shoulders
itched the entire time we were motionless.
The sensation of
imminent danger didn't lessen until we were back into our own
territory. Even then it didn't disappear; it just faded back to its
normal level, back to something I could mostly ignore.
Everyone but mother
was waiting for us as we limped across the vast expanse of ankle-deep
grass that led up to the house. The parents, those present at least,
breathed sighs of relief as soon as we were close enough for them to
count noses. Jessica's father, Andrew, took in the bloody gashes
along Isaac's chest, and her scratch-free figure with the same
worried eyes. He tiredly pushed his wheelchair forward as soon as we
stepped into the light.
mother, looked agitated. She took in her son's condition and then
favored me with the kind of look some dominants kill over. She
hadn't liked me for as long as I could remember. It had bothered me
more when I was younger, before I realized she doesn't live in the
same world as the rest of us. She actually still had friends in
She didn't really
believe the other pack meant us harm. It was only one of the many
reasons why she'd been given the guest residence several hundred
yards away from the main house. Nobody really thought she'd go so
far as to spy for her old friends, but it made us all sleep a little
better to know she wasn't lurking in the next room. James was
already conflicted enough. There wasn't any reason to court disaster
by giving her an opportunity to make him choose once and for all
between us and her.
Shifting more smoothly
than most of us were able, Isaac melted back into his human form.
Jess was next; she took Isaac's hand, leading him to her father, who
clasped them both in a frail hug before breaking out into a series of
racking coughs. The cold night air always aggravated the old shape
shifter's wounds. Isaac picked Andrew up out of his chair and after
looking to me for a nod of permission, carried him inside.
I followed the other
three wolves, or rather the two wolves and Dominic, the rest of the
way to the house. I wasn't looking forward to speaking to Addison,
but squelched the urge to transform back to my hybrid form to hold
the discussion. I'd already worn too many shapes tonight. The
cramps were likely going to be bad as it was. Adding yet another
change to the abuse I'd put my body through would be a very bad idea.
"You split the
pack up and let James get hurt didn't you?"
Donovan, the family
retainer, made as if to hush James' mom, but I stopped him with a
glance. The last thing we needed was to give her venom additional
targets, especially targets that couldn't defend themselves against
"I split the
pack up, but that isn't how James got hurt. His injuries came when he jumped Isaac
while we were still only a mile or so outside of the other pack's
practically glowed at the thought of her son attacking the wolf just
higher than him in the pack hierarchy. She was convinced I was
holding him back, that he wasn't being given his due. She was going
to get him killed at some point, but there was no way for me to
convince her of that.
James looked like he
was going to interject something indignant, but I cut him off before
he could say anything.
"I was within my
rights to break the two of you up, James. The other pack had plenty
of time to regroup and return. The last thing you should have been
doing was spilling our blood when we were so close to their home."
I could see
comprehension begin to dawn. He'd never thought it through, never
realized just how much danger we were in, just how easily the other
pack could have appeared out of the darkness and torn into us. He'd
assumed I was just too injured to press our advantage, and had
resented Isaac stealing his opportunity for glorious, bloody battle.
Addison hadn't managed
to follow the logic, but it wasn't a lack of ability, it was willful
refusal. She envisioned a higher place for her son, a place beyond
our small pack, wrongly assuming his obtaining it would result in
true safety for the first time in her entire life.
She'd never understood that
his achieving her impossible dreams would just set both of them in
even more precarious circumstances.
"You know what
my rights are, James."
Now I saw actual fear
streak through his eyes. Fear and resentment. Dominic crowded
closer to his side, concern written large on her expression, but
obviously making an effort to calm both James and his mother.